Gardaí have warned that advances in technology have made it easier for them to detect people who are driving without insurance.

They say automatic number plate recognition technology is now available on a mobile device for gardaí and that it is a "game changer" in terms of catching people who are committing a variety of road traffic violations.

Insurance Ireland says 174,000 drivers were uninsured last year, up 15% since 2018 and that those without insurance are making policy prices higher.

Gardaí demonstrate the latest automatic number plate recognition technology

What is Automatic Number Plate Recognition Technology?

Automatic number plate recognition technology has been in use by gardaí for the past 12 years.

It allows gardaí to read every vehicle registration plate that passes them, at a rate of six vehicles every second.

It can detect cars travelling up to 180km an hour and it tells gardaí what insurance company a person is with, what insurer they previously had, if their tax and NCT is valid and other details such as if the vehicle has been stolen.

Up to 18 months ago this technology was only available in garda vehicles, but recent advances in the technology mean gardaí can now search this driver data on their mobile phones.

That capability, combined with a database of 2.8m driver insurance records that have been compiled by and is updated daily by insurance companies, means that it is now much easier to detect those who are driving without insurance.

Why do gardaí say it's a 'game-changer'?

Up to recently, gardaí have only been able to rely on the disc in the vehicle to tell if someone was insured or not.

But according to Sgt Gavin Coleman of the Dublin Regional Roads Policing Division, this was not the most reliable evidence because of a technique some drivers were using to avoid paying their full premium.

He said: "Previously what people were doing is they're applying their insurance policy they were paying for it using direct debit. So they had a cert in their window but then they would cancel their direct debit.

"They were getting away with paying only 10% for their insurance. But now with the ANPR system, we're able to detect that. We look on our screen, see them as having no insurance and then we know that that policy is cancelled.

"Then we can deal with that, bring the driver to court, the vehicle is seized so they can't get away with it."

The technology can also detect issues with tax, NCT or other road traffic violations

How big a problem are uninsured drivers?

Last year, there were 174,000 uninsured vehicles on Irish roads.

That equates to one in every 13 drivers, or 7% of all vehicles on the road.

The figure rose 15% over a three-year period between 2018 and 2021.

So what difference does catching them make?

Insurance Ireland says this rate is among the highest in Europe.

Its CEO Moya Murdoch says uninsured drivers are costing complaint drivers more and this technology will help prevent that.

She said: "When you get drivers who are misrepresenting themselves or giving false information, unfortunately, other drivers or insurance policy holders are paying the premiums for that.

"They're creating higher premiums and they shouldn't be paying because other people are driving with the wrong insurance or no insurance. So this will be a really effective tool in tackling that problem.

"It's a criminal offence to drive without insurance. And we are advising you not to do it. You will get caught the guards now have the ability to catch you. "

Is it just insurance evaders that can get caught?

No, the technology can also detect issues with tax, NCT or other road traffic violations.

Gardaí and Insurance Ireland hope it will make people think twice before driving without the proper documentation.